New approaches to growing the health data science workforce

The University of Birmingham's Institute for Interdisciplinary Data Science and AI and Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) have worked in partnership to pilot new approaches to entice skilled graduates from quantitative disciplines to consider health data science, to address the national skills gap.

As an emerging modern discipline, health data science requires diverse skills in mathematics, programming, and data analysis – skills commonly found in graduates with academic backgrounds in subjects such as physics, engineering, mathematics and computer science. However, while there are some schemes to enable these disciplinary switches, they happen most often by chance or circumstance.

Recent research by HDR UK (The Great UK PhD Data Science Survey) identified that many graduate students received little or no training in how their skills could be applied to other disciplines, including health data science. This pilot programme developed bespoke training courses that provided insight into health data science for graduates in the quantitative sciences.

 “I was originally trained as an engineer and switched to health data science as part of a Centre for Doctoral Training. Most of my original course mates are no longer working in health or even in research, and my current colleagues have often entered into health data science opportunistically after completing their PhDs in other subjects and discovering the relevance of their knowledge for solving biological and health problems.”

Professor Christopher Yau
(Pilot Co-Director), University of Oxford and Health Data Research UK

Health Data Immersion Weeks

In 2023 we delivered a series of intensive courses (or ‘immersion weeks’), intended to enable graduates with advanced skills in mathematics and computational science to gain insight into key topics in health data science.

These courses were designed to provide a rapid introduction to key areas:

Developed by subject specialists, these courses aimed to identify and address participants’ gaps in knowledge, which can be key obstacles to changing disciplines.

If you would like more information about the immersion weeks, please email

For further information about HDR UK, please visit HDR UK.

“I moved to health data science following a PhD in Theoretical Physics following a chance conversation with an academic already working in the area. I’d never considered working in the area before this and was really surprised to discover how the skills I’d developed during my PhD mapped to problems in health data research. It’s surprisingly common for those of us working in this area to have started our careers on a different path.”

Professor Iain Styles
(Pilot Co-Director)

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